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Appalachians Reclaiming Their Stories And Means Of Earning A Living

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John Hale/ WVPB
Farm workers at Orr's Orchard in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Most people rarely think about where food comes from. We go to the grocery store and have so much to choose from. But global experts say small and medium-sized farms are critical to future food systems. That’s what we’ve got here in Appalachia, but more and more farmers across our region are facing economic challenges.

On this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’re exploring ways people are trying to reclaim their own story, including how conversations about earning a living are playing out across our region. We’ll hear how people are impacted by unreliable internet access and why small farmers can’t afford to stay in business. We’ll also hear from people who are rediscovering their own families’ racial history, and how that’s impacted their work in their communities. 

In This Episode

The Future Of Hemp And CBD

Many people believed the hemp industry could change the economic future of Appalachia. It can be used for fabrics and it can be used to produce CBD oil  —  a compound that many claim has medicinal benefits.

But the hemp industry is struggling, as Liam Niemeyer reports, in part because the market for CBD is flooded with so many farmers growing it.

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Apples From Appalachia

One food crop in high demand across Appalachia is heirloom apples. But not enough farmers are growing them. West Virginia produces about 110 million pounds of apples every year, just a third of what we used to grow in 1979, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. We hear from several farmers who talk about the economic challenges they face. 

Helping Home Canners

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Credit Caleb Johnson / Gravy Podcast
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Gravy Podcast

Canning food so it can be eaten throughout the year is a practice that used to be critical for our ancestors to survive the winter. There are some efforts to revive the art of canning, and make it easier for people who grow their own food to can their veggies safely and cheaply.

This story, reported by Caleb Johnson, originally aired on the podcast “Gravy,” a production of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Johnson teaches writing at Appalachian State University in Boone North Carolina. 

Staying Connected 

Broadband internet can be spotty and unreliable in parts of Appalachia. In some communities, residents can’t work from home if they need to do anything on the internet. There are lots of federal grants offering rural communities help to improve their broadband infrastructure, but they often need a match to get these funds. 

Recently, Emily Allen visited Calhoun County, West Virginia to learn more about how this struggle for broadband access is affecting people in this remote mountain community.  

Just Transition

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Credit Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource
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Ohio Valley ReSource
Kentucky entrepreneurs show their products at the 2019 SOAR Summit.

Four years ago, when President Trump was a candidate for president, he made headlines in Appalachia by promising to bring coal miners back to work. And while that promise did pay off for some miners  —  layoffs, and widespread bankruptcies have plagued much of our region’s coal community in the years of Trump’s presidency. 

At a recent public meeting in Charleston, West Virginia, a group of activists, scientists, and community organizers gathered to talk about what this could look like for people here in Appalachia. Brittany Patterson was there and has this story.

Student Storytelling

As part of a storytelling mentoring initiative with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, members of our newsroom have been meeting with high school students at the Fayette Institute of Technology in Fayette County, West Virginia. Students there have been exploring issues important to them, including the constantly asked questions they get about what they plan to do after school. 

Students Ashton Huffman, Timothy Ellison, Dayton Copeland and Stormie Surface are learning radio storytelling through a project with Inside Appalachia. We'll be hearing more of their work later this year.

Cultural Identity  —  The Melungeon

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The Melungeon people of east Tennessee were isolated and discriminated against throughout much of their history. Their dark skin often meant they faced prejudice. Many from this community describe their family’s history as one of feeling “outside” the rest of their community. 

Eric Douglas spoke with two people who are Melungeon about how they’re trying to reshape the narrative. 

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from The Ohio Valley ReSource, which is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Report For America and the Southern Foodways Alliance and their podcast Gravy  —  we are big fans, check them out if you’re interested in conversations about food, cooking, and the increasingly diverse food culture that exists across the south. 

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Spencer Elliot

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer.  Our executive producer is Glynis Board. She also edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. 

You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

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Roxy Todd is a reporter and producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Glynis Board hails from the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and is based in Wheeling at the First State Capital Building. She’s been reporting full time for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2012. She covers a broad range of topics but focuses on producing and hosting the West Virginia Public Broadcasting's daily news show West Virginia Morning.
Eric is a native of Kanawha County who graduated from Marshall University with a degree in journalism. He has written for newspapers and magazines throughout his career. He is an author, writing both nonfiction and fiction, including a series of thriller novels set in locations around the world. You can reach Eric at edouglas@wvpublic.org